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The Tempest (Public Works)

Uneven musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s late comedy which nevertheless appear to be a crowd pleaser at Central Park's Delacorte Theater.

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Renée Elise Goldsberry as Prospero (center) with the community ensemble in a scene from Public Works’ musical adaptation of “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

[avatar user=”Victor Gluck” size=”96″ align=”left”] Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief[/avatar]

The latest Public Works’ musical adaptation at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park is an uneven production of Shakespeare’s late comedy, The Tempest, adapted and directed by Public Works’ current artistic director Laurie Wollery, with music and lyrics by Benjamin Velez. Nevertheless, it appears to be a crowd pleaser despite only partially making the most of its opportunities. With a cast led by Tony Award-winning actress Renée Elise Goldsberry as Prospero, the total company numbers 91 performers as well as dancers from Oyu Oro Afro Cuban Experimental Dance Ensemble choreographed by Tiffany Rea-Fisher of Emerge125.

While performed in an edited version of the Shakespeare text, it remains extremely faithful to its source. However, to give women a greater role in this play with its only one female character, Prospero, Gonzalo and Trinculo have been given reverse genders. Strangely, Prospero now a woman is still referred to as the deposed Duke of Milan rather than Duchess as well as the mother of Miranda, nor has she been renamed “Prospera” as in other productions which have gone the same route.

Sabrina Cedeño as Trinculo, Joel Perez as Stephano and Theo Stockman as Caliban in a scene from Public Works’ musical adaptation of “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Often considered Shakespeare’s farewell to the stage, the backstory is that Prospero, the rightful Duke of Milan, has been exiled with her daughter Miranda to an abandoned island run by supernatural beings. For the last 12 years she has brought up her daughter alongside Ariel, a spirit, and Caliban, a monster. Now her brother Antonio, the usurping Duke of Milan, his fellow conspirator Alonso, King of Naples, and his young son Ferdinand have been shipwrecked on the island and unknowingly are in Prospero’s power.

The Europeans stumble around the enchanted island with Alonso mourning the loss of his son, and his brother Sebastian and Duke Antonio plotting his overthrow while Prospero and his spirits watch over as events unfold. Separated from his countrymen, Ferdinand meets 16-year-old Miranda and they fall in love, while Prospero plans to get her revenge on Antonio and Alonso. However, the love and the wisdom of spirit ancestors convince her to go in the direction of reconciliation and forgiveness.

Naomi Pierre as Miranda and Jordan Best as Ferdinand (center) with the community ensemble in a scene from Public Works’ musical adaptation of “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

Visually, the show is not as effective as it might have been considering the play usually includes a great deal of magic. Here there is very little in the way of scenic illusions or legerdemain. Alexis Distler’s setting which makes use of some elements of the design for Hamlet, the previous staging on the Delacorte stage, a falling down mansion seemingly off its foundation, adds little to the production’s visuals. Except for the stunning harpy costume for Ariel by Wilberth Gonzalez, the rest of the designs are more than bland. The all-black leather creations for the Europeans give the production a contemporary look that feels out of place. The dozens of community partners dressed in matching blue and yellow outfits have been given little to do besides stand around as witnesses or hum to the large-scale musical numbers.

The score by Velez is only effective half of the time, though this may be due to the rather bland staging by Woolery. The best songs are “A Crown Upon Your Head,” Antonio’s seduction song trying to get Sebastian to kill his brother, the amusing “A Fool Can Be A King” sung and cavorted to by the low comic characters Stephano, Trinculo and Caliban, the sweet love song, “Log Man” in which Prospero watches the developing relationship between her daughter and Ferdinand, and the witty “Never Be Free,” sung by Ariel and her Spirit companions with its clever rhymes.

Jo Lampert as Ariel with the community ensemble in a scene from Public Works’ musical adaptation of “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

The speaking roles are a combination of professionals who have appeared in Public Theater productions before and non-professional community partners. As Prospero, Goldsberry, best known for her Tony Award-winning role as Angelica Schuyler, Alexander Hamilton’s beloved sister-in-law, is throughout angry and bitter as though she were playing Medea or Antigone , whether by direction or her choice is unknown, though Prospero is the position of power. Sixteen-year-old Naomi Pierre as Miranda and Jordan Best as Ferdinand are quite charming. Joel Perez’s Stephano, drunken butler to the king, steals every scene he is in with his vaudeville turns.

Susan Lin’s Gonzalo, councellor to King Alonso, is as heavy handed an over emphatic as Prospero. As King Alonso of Naples, Joel Frost is a grim brooding presence who fails to evoke the pathos he is obviously trying for. Although they have done excellent work elsewhere, Jo Lampert as Ariel and Theo Stockman as Caliban are pale imitations of what they might have been. Anthony Chatmon II has a good deal of fun as the treacherous Antonio.

Cameo Group Oyu Oro Afro Cuban Experimental Dance Ensemble (center) with the community ensemble in a scene from Public Works’ musical adaptation of “The Tempest” at the Delacorte Theater (Photo credit: Joan Marcus)

While Laurie Woolery’s production is good as far as it goes, it fails to bring the magic to the stage that is inherent in the story line. The Tempest, the last show at the Delacorte this season, is an interesting though only partly successful attempt to include a great many community partner organizations who participate all throughout the year. Among the community partners all of whom have participated over the past 12 years of Public Works’ existence are the Brownsville Recreation Center, Casita Maria Center for the Arts & Education, Center for Family Life in Sunset Park, Children’s Aid, Domestic Workers United, Dreamyard, The Fortune Society, and the Military Resilience Foundation, aside from the two dance organizations previously mentioned.

Note that as the Delacorte Theater will be undergoing renovation for the next 18 months this is the last show on its stage until 2025.

The Tempest (Aug. 27 – September 3, 2023)

Public Works

The Public Theater at the Delacorte Theater, Central Park, enter at 81st Street and Central Park West or 79th Street and Fifth Avenue, in Manhattan

Free tickets distributed at 12 Noon at the Delacorte Box Office to those on prior line, Downtown in-person Distribution Lottery at The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street at Astor Place (sign-up begins at 11 AM), or by Mobile Ticket Lottery powered by TodayTix at

Running time: one hour and 50 minutes without an intermission

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About Victor Gluck, Editor-in-Chief (990 Articles)
Victor Gluck was a drama critic and arts journalist with Back Stage from 1980 – 2006. He started reviewing for in 2006, where he was also Associate Editor from 2011-2013, and has been Editor-in-Chief since 2014. He is a voting member of The Drama Desk, the Outer Critics Circle, the American Theatre Critics Association, and the Dramatists Guild of America. His plays have been performed at the Quaigh Theatre, Ryan Repertory Company, St. Clements Church, Nuyorican Poets Café and The Gene Frankel Playwrights/Directors Lab.

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